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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Five Questions That Must Be Answered Before Next Season

5 questions that must be answered before next season

By Gary Parrish, Memphis Commercial Appeal
April 16, 2006

John Calipari, new contract signed, is on board for the future. That means University of Memphis basketball fans have one less thing worry about. Still, many questions linger. Here, we'll try to answer five.

Q: Will Shawne Williams and Darius Washington return to school?

A: The short answer is that it's unclear. Over the past week, people close to the situation have offered contrasting opinions with some stating the outlook changes daily.
It breaks down like this:

Williams will be a first-round pick if he turns pro, and that means a guaranteed contract worth millions of dollars. His family is aware of this, and his grandfather is a proponent of leaving school, noting life offers no promises if a sophomore slump brings problems.

On the other hand, Williams is the kind of prospect who could go from the middle of the first round to near the top of the lottery by returning to Memphis and delivering a more-polished and consistent effort next season. That would garner even more money, not to mention better position the Hamilton High product to contribute immediately at the NBA level, which is crucial considering the second contract of most players is the one that typically defines their careers, and it's hard for a person to get a lucrative second deal if he hasn't done much early.

As for Washington, the options aren't as promising. Nobody projects him as a first-round pick, and it's debatable whether he'd be selected at all. So for the most part jumping to the NBA now seems silly unless Washington doesn't believe his proverbial stock will increase and the goal is to draw a paycheck now no matter what.

On the other hand, in returning to Memphis Washington would be part of a logjam at point guard that could force him to play more off-the-ball. The positive is he would probably flourish in that role and become one of the best shooting guards in the nation. The negative is that the NBA is not looking for 6-2 shooting guards, so abandoning the quest to become a "true" point guard may hinder his longstanding pro aspirations.

In other words, stay tuned.

Q: Will all four signees qualify and be available next season?

A: It appears so. Those close to the program have said Willie Kemp, Hashim Bailey and Pierre Niles are all fine academically, and should enroll in the first summer session of classes at the UofM. Tre'Von Willis is also OK. But he may be unable to enroll until the second summer term, though only because his high school year lasts longer than normal.

Q: Will the Tigers sign anyone late who can help next season?

A: Probably not. At one point, Tyler Smith was an option, but now it appears he's headed elsewhere, perhaps Pittsburgh. As always, there could be a walk-on, and Calipari acknowledged Saturday via cell phone while recruiting at an AAU Tournament in Fayetteville, Ark., that he is considering taking a transfer (Oklahoma State freshman Roderick Flemings is a possibility, though at this point only a possibility).

Either way, walk-ons -- at least those not sponsored by Streets Ministries -- don't tend to contribute at this level, and any transfer wouldn't be eligible until the 2007-08 season. So there's probably nothing unknown that will help next year.

Q: How is the recruitment of the Class of 2007 going?

A: Good, by all accounts. Memphis already has a commitment from Will Bogan, a center from Missouri. Meanwhile, the Tigers are on solid ground with several of's Top 100 prospects, among them Illinois point guard Derrick Rose (No. 8), Texas center Anthony Randolph (No. 25), Ohio forward Alex Tyus (No. 36), New Jersey forward Jeff Robinson (No. 68), Memphis point guard Maurice Miller (No. 82) and Mississippi forward Ravern Johnson ( No. 93).

Q: What about next year's schedule?

A: Good news came from last week's meeting of the NCAA Management Council. One thing finally nixed -- though it still has to go through the board of directors, which shouldn't be a problem -- was the two-in-four rule that prohibited schools from playing in more than two exempted tournaments every four seasons.

Had that stayed in place, the Tigers would've been unable to participate in the Maui Invitational because they played in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic two years ago and the NIT Season Tip-off last year. But with the rule now apparently out of the way, it's off to Maui for games on Nov. 20, 21 and 22.

Other teams participating in the event are UCLA, Kentucky, Oklahoma, DePaul, Purdue, Chaminade and Georgia Tech. Memphis is guaranteed three games against those teams, though the bracket has not been set.

Meanwhile, the Management Council also raised the total of regular-season games from 27 to 28 with exempted tournaments counting as one game. So because the Tigers will get a three-for-one deal in terms of accounting in Maui, they will play 30 regular-season games, 16 of which will be non-conference.

Already on the schedule are contests at Tennessee, Arizona and Gonzaga. At home, the Tigers will have Ole Miss and Cincinnati. Beyond that, there will be a handful of "buy games" with opponents such as or similar to Winthrop and Louisiana Tech, and Calipari said Saturday there will be at least one more home game against a yet-to-be-determined Top 20 team.

It's doubtful the schedule will be finalized before September.

-- Gary Parrish: 901-529-2365

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